Email Conversion, Part 1: How to Increase Email Open Rates to 50%+…

Actual open rate and click rate stats for a newsletter that I published...

Actual open rate and click rate stats for a newsletter that I published…

If you’re a blogger, a startup marketer, or an email list manager. You’ll find this helpful. This is Part 1 in a two part series. It’s also my first post. 

In 2011 I co-created a business in the self help/humor space that eventually built to 1,100+ email subscribers. Every time we sent an email to announce a new blog I would obsess over the number of subscribers who would open it (covered in this blog) and click through (covered in my next blog).

Our open rate hovered around 35% in the early days which is pretty good. I wanted more (don’t we always).

My initial approach to email subject lines was to reuse the title from the blog post I was promoting. The problem was that the blog post title was very specific and gave away all the mystery. So I decided to change things up and researched the tactics of online girly magazines like Cosmo who were rumored to have insane open rates for their articles (they were also serving our niche).

Eventually, I found the perfect strategy for our email subject lines and increased our average open rates from ~35% to ~45% with several open rates exceeding 50%. Here’s a summary of how to replicate what I did:

1. Use mysterious subject titles. When it comes to open rates, peaking your readers curiosity is key. Use mysterious titles where the reader wants a fill-in-the blank type of answer for instant gratification.

2. Write the subject line in all lowercase. More psychology. When your friends send you a quick email, they normally don’t take the time to capitalize their subject lines. Subject lines in all lowercase seem more friendly and inviting, less formal and less corporate.

3. End the subject line with an ellipsis… Some subtle psychology here. The 3-dotted ellipsis indicates to a reader that there is more to come. It’s a punctuation mark that connotes suspense. Use it.


I’ve listed out 3 sets of examples. The first group are ultra vague & mysterious subject lines that will work occasionally if you’re desperate for ideas. Don’t overuse these subjects because they can start to annoy your subscribers.

I’ve also listed some example subject lines that I’ve used in the past that are representative of the kinds of titles that get good open rates, are sustainable long-term, and won’t piss your readers off. They are more topic specific while retaining elements of mystery. Finally, I listed a few titles that produced mediocre results for me so you can see the difference between mediocre titles and elite titles.

Get great open rates but might annoy your list:

1. hey…
2. we need to talk about this…
3. something I heard about yesterday…

Get good-to-great open rates and shouldn’t annoy your list:

1. guys cringe when a woman calls herself this…
2. why guys don’t say hi to the hottest girl in the bar…
3. why guys stray and how to prevent it…
4. 1 weird way to lose belly fat…
5. the reply text that guys hate the most…

Yes, I realize these titles only work well in certain niches. You’ll have to extrapolate.

Here’s a few of my emails that had a mediocre open rate response:

1. When is it OK to check your horoscope?
2. duck faces, mirrors, red flags, oh my!
3. #41: She can only cook with an oven

Of note, even our mediocre open rate emails were 30%+, so still not terrible, but I wanted to show the difference between average and elite performers.

In my next blog post, I’ll detail how to improve the body of your emails so that you can improve your click through rate. The method that I used ended up doubling our click through rate. You can check back here in a week or so, or you can subscribe to my email list and I’ll send you a note when it’s ready.

[Update. Part 2 is live on the blog.]

All the best,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>